The controversial question of ‘will it get my cows high?’ is one of the leading concerns among cattle farmers and ranchers regarding the usage of hemp (Cannabis Sativa) as cattle feed.
An online survey titled "Cannabis in U.S. Agriculture" found that 58% of respondents were not in favor of the use of hemp as cattle feed due to an ethical standpoint. Will social views stand in the way of the next revolutionary livestock super feed, or are these respondents' cautions justified?
Psychoactive effects on cattle and other livestock
For the most part, it is easy to understand thinking that hemp, also known as Cannabis Sativa L, could have a psychoactive effect on livestock. Having a herd of red-eyed, drooling cows in your pasture is not ideal, not to mention the backlash from animal activists. The good news is most hemp plants only contain 0.3% THC, and considering the mass of most livestock, such a small amount will have no negative health effects on the animal.
However, a study by the Federal Institute for Risk Management (BfR) in Germany showed some troubling results. The study focused on dairy cows and the effect of hemp feed on the production and quality of the milk.
The results of the study found a decrease in respiratory and heart rates, increased salivation (the production of saliva), and a decrease in grazing and milk production. After prolonged digestion of hemp silage, trace amounts of THC were detectable in the milk. Although small, the amounts detectable are a consumer health concern, according to the opinion of Dr. Robert Pieper from BfR.
Effect on livestock and production
Hemp has the proven effect of relaxing livestock, and while this may cause a decrease in grazing and a slightly slower daily weight gain, the effects on beef cattle are positive. Relaxed cattle give higher-quality beef. When cattle are stressed out, much like humans, an increase in adrenaline production occurs. Increased adrenaline changes the acidity, or pH, of the meat, making it flavorless and tough. The nutrition added when mixing hemp silage into livestock feed more than makes up for the decrease in grazing.
Increased salivation might seem strange and unhealthy, but it has many proven benefits, although the idea of a cow walking around like a drooling Great Dane is enough to put anyone off.
Benefits of increased salivation:
Mastication has increased, making it easier for cattle to chew food.
Increased anti-bacterial protection
Maintenance of pH levels for rumen microorganisms
Source of nitrogenous and mineral nutrients.
A study by Kansas State University found that hemp could be used in the treatment of stress-related respiratory infections that occur when calves are weaned from their mothers or cattle are moved into feedlots with closer proximity.
Nutritional value and processing techniques
Hemp is usually added to feed in the form of silage made with the entire plant. The majority of the nutrient stock can be found in hemp seeds after oil extraction. After the oil extraction has been done, the byproduct is seed cake or meal. Hemp seed cakes are high in fat and protein and contain minerals such as Magnesium, essential Amino acids, iron, and Manganese.
Hemp seed cake is best used as a protein supplement in livestock feed. The nutritional value of hemp seed cake is equal to that of Lucerne, except for higher levels of certain fatty acids. Hemp seeds have been found to increase the production of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) in livestock. Studies on CLA have found that this fatty acid assists humans in fighting the production of cancer cells.
Oil extraction from hemp seeds is a pretty expensive process, even with the latest developments in new CO2 extraction solutions. Extraction for the sake of feed cakes does not justify the expense, but using the by-products of the process, the hemp seed cake, as cattle feed while still selling the oil is a more lucrative endeavor.
Hemp seeds average $400 per kg and can make up to $2500 in profit on an acre if the hemp fibers are sold. The price of hemp fibers is currently stable at $250 per ton.
Farmers are asking themselves if hemp livestock feed is worth the cost, even with the extraordinary health benefits to the livestock.
The future of agricultural hemp and its place among formidable feeds are yet to be decided. More studies are being done on hemp and its effectiveness in the use of livestock feed, which is an avenue of great interest to agricultural institutes.
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